recreation is an important economic activity on the Columbia River, where
recreation is a specifically authorized purpose of several of the dams.
Recreational use and development is authorized at all of the federal dams under
federal legislation such as the Federal Water Projects Recreation Act of 1965
and the Flood Control Act of 1944. Fishing and boating are the most popular
forms of water-based recreation on the Columbia, but windsurfing, particularly
in the perpetually windy Columbia River Gorge, is rapidly growing in popularity
and economic importance to Gorge communities.
1993 study that was part of a federal review of Columbia River Basin dams
identified the types and relative popularity of different types of water-based
recreation on the river. A telephone survey of 831 residents in the Columbia
River Basin tested participation rates for water-based recreation, demographic
characteristics, trip information by destination and attitudes toward
recreation site characteristics. The survey showed that 68 percent of the
respondents participated in water-based recreation in the previous 12 months,
the mean age of these people was 39.7 years, and fishing and boating were the
most popular activities. May, June, July and August were the most popular
months for water-based recreation — no surprise, really.
proximity to one’s home was an important factor in determining where the
respondents went, the survey showed the most popular destinations were
Lake Roosevelt behind Grand Coulee Dam, Lake Umatilla Behind John Day
Dam, the Columbia River behind Bonneville Dam, the reservoir behind Dworshak
Dam in Idaho and the reservoirs behind Hungry Horse and Libby dams in Montana.
Interestingly, when asked what was the most important characteristic that makes
a particular site attractive, the most frequent response was environmental
quality. Site fees, proximity to home and whether the site is frequently
crowded also were important, but not as important as environmental quality.
Accessibility to the water also was an important characteristic. Access is more
difficult at the large storage reservoirs when they are lowered for flood
control purposes in the fall. Access also can be a problem at the run-of-river
dams when reservoirs drop because of low flows. The federal survey suggested
dredging may be an acceptable option at the more popular boat ramps in order to
keep them open when the water levels drop.
and boating remain the most popular recreational pursuits on the Columbia’s reservoirs,
but in the Columbia River Gorge windsurfing has become a major
economic factor. On windy spring and summer days, which by definition is most
spring and summer days, the river is alive with the brightly colored sails of
windsurfers skimming the wave tops. Major competitions attract windsurfers from
throughout the world; hotels and campgrounds fill; prices for real estate near
the river (where urban development is allowed under the National Scenic Area
legislation) in Hood River County, Oregon, and Klickitat County, Washington,
soared in the 1990s with the advent of windsurfing.
scene is much different in British Columbia, where fishing and boating on
Columbia River reservoirs also is popular but most of the river is more remote
than in the United States. With the exception of the
Arrow Lakes, the
river also is narrower and faster-flowing in most places. The upper Columbia
between Kinbasket Reservoir, behind Mica Dam, and the headwaters at
Columbia Lake is undammed. With the exception of the two headwaters
lakes, Columbia and Windermere, the river meanders for more than 100 miles
through an internationally known wetlands area that is rich with wildlife and,
by virtue of its location on the Pacific Flyway, migratory water fowl. Here, water-based
recreation leans more toward canoeing, kayaking, camping, wildlife photography
and ecotourism, a striking contrast to the mile-wide, windy sailboard
playground of the Columbia River Gorge 900 miles downstream.